VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben confirmed that Christmas trade was severely impacted because of the adverse weather conditions.
“Many Christmas parties were either cancelled or scaled back with resultant loss of revenue and in some cases losses because food stocks had been purchased in line with bookings,” he explained, “The evidence suggests that the week between Christmas and New Year was strong but overall this would fail to compensate for the pre-Christmas losses that went on for three weeks.”
At the Riverfront in Virginia, for example, Jimmy Murray told Drinks Industry Ireland that it was “just a disaster for Christmas parties. But we found that people stayed local after Christmas and didn’t go to the bigger towns which was some help to us. Overall we’d a good Christmas because they stayed local”.
The first couple of weeks of January saw business at the Riverfront somewhat quieter though with business well down on last January “by about two to three per cent”.
During the snows, the cash & carrys found it difficult to get deliveries made and with the temperature drop, keg deliveries to many pubs arrived frozen.
“This is a step backwards in quality control if you consider that they deliver the kegs from the open back of a lorry,” commented Jimmy.
In Sean’s Bar in Athlone, Tim Donovan was equally displeased with the beer deliveries he got over the frozen weeks before Christmas.
“Guinness dropped off the kegs to us completely frozen,” he complained, “The Guinness yard in Roscommon is the size of a football pitch with no cover whatsoever.
“Why didn’t they uplift them and warehouse them somewhere?” he wondered, “Every one keg of the 110 kegs dropped in was frozen.”
Tim had to borrow kegs from fellow publicans in the vicinity before they themselves eventually ran out, he says.
“We were severely affected by the snow,” he told Drinks Industry Ireland, “Our gas line froze and we didn’t have the beer garden open for five to six weeks so we missed out every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday over Christmas… We lost the whole lot.”
His water, too, froze.
“From getting up in the morning the first thing was to try and get water – even our reserve tanks froze-up. So we had to go and get water in every morning by bringing it in on the back of a jeep.
Then the council turned off what water there was being delivered to the pub…
“..Then we had the ice machine completely freezing over – it was the same with every pub in town. By then we had to buy bags of ice to keep going, getting €50 to €60-worth of ice a day.”
With the snow and with the taxis off the road, any customers present in Sean’s Bar simply disappeared, he added.
However January saw a pickup as a lot of people didn’t get out much over Christmas.
“January was OK,” he said.
John O’Sullivan in the Munster Bar in Tralee managed to avoid frozen kegs by stocking up before Christmas.
He pronounced himself very happy with things over the Festive period despite the snow and frost “… at minus 12 degrees and with the oil freezing up, no water etc people had to be neighbourly and help each other out with water,” he commented, “Plumbers were at a premium for burst pipes and ceilings collapsing”.
John found that the adverse weather forced people to go into pubs looking for plumbers etc who’d turned off their mobile phones for the Festive period.
“Publicans are meant to know everything about everything,” commented John, “But we were at least able to help a few people make contact through our pub”.
In response to queries about the frozen beer kegs, Diageo Ireland told Drinks Industry Ireland, “Diageo is aware that some customers experienced difficulties with frozen kegs during the extreme weather conditions. The quality teams worked with their customers to help ensure that all beer was served to perfect pint standard. Any customers who contacted Diageo in relation to frozen kegs received an urgent response which included advice about the handling of frozen kegs. Diageo is committed to helping its customers to serve the perfect pint every time”.
In Tullamore, Emmet Lynch of Hugh Lynch’s will be glad to see the back of January, “… but it wasn’t as bad as I thought,” he added.
The freeze-up did little good to the licensed trade in Northern Ireland either with many pubs reporting a major drop in business.
The Chief Executive of Pubs of Ulster (formerly the NI Federation of Retail Licensed Trade) Colin Neill pointed out that the snow over Christmas had, in effect, wiped out business at a time when some 20 per cent of annual turnover is made.
He added that the subsequent water crisis may well prove the final blow for many pubs fighting to survive there. He estimated that as many as 100 NI pubs are currently in receivership.